The digital transformation of the public sector is no longer an option but a necessity. From this assumption derive a series of considerations and insights from the OECD report “Digital Government Index 2019”.
The report considers the level of maturity of digital government strategies and initiatives to be a key factor in governments’ ability to respond to crises with resilience and agility. An appropriate approach to digital is seen as critical to efficiently managing today’s disruptions and uncertainties while responding to the emerging needs of economies and societies.
The six dimensions of the Digital Government Index framework
The Digital Government Index 2019 stems from a key statement included in the 2014 OECD Recommendation, which considers the need to move beyond the concept of e-government (focused on digitization as a lever for process efficiency) to the concept of digital government, which considers the use of digital technologies as an integral part of administrations’ innovation strategies to create public value.
The analysis of the performance of the countries examined is conducted within a framework that evaluates six dimensions, those that according to the OECD must characterize the path of digital transformation of public administrations.
DIGITAL BY DESIGN
Digital should be considered a fundamental and unavoidable element to be included and integrated in policy processes. The principle of digital by design therefore implies an approach to digitization that starts with the rethinking and redesign of processes.
On this front, Korea is in first place, followed by Japan, Colombia and Spain.
A government is data-driven when it is able to use and manage data as a strategic asset for planning, implementing, and monitoring public policy, as well as for creating public value and delivering agile and responsive public services.
The United Kingdom, Denmark, and Korea come out on top in this dimension because of their holistic approach to data, which has enabled them to leverage data as a strategic asset.
GOVERNMENT AS PLATFORM
A government operates as a platform when it can provide clear, transparent and integrated guidelines, tools, data and software.
Under this aspect, the United Kingdom ranks first, followed by Korea, Portugal, Canada, and Colombia.
GOVERNMENT OPEN BY DEFAULT
A government open by default should make government data and policymaking processes (including algorithms) publicly available within the limits of existing law and the national and public interest. This means that data, information, systems and processes should remain open unless there is a compelling reason for not keeping them so.
In this respect, all countries report higher scores than the other dimensions examined. The best performers on the open by default dimension, however, are Korea, the United Kingdom and Denmark, which have developed comprehensive strategies and initiatives to make data, processes and public services open to the community.
A government is user-driven when it assigns a central role to people’s needs and convenience in designing processes, services and policies, and when it adopts inclusive mechanisms to put this vision into practice.
Denmark, Colombia, and the United Kingdom lead in this regard, followed by Korea, Japan, and Canada. These countries share similar best practices for consistently engaging key stakeholders in the design and development of policies and services.
A proactive approach requires governments and public employees to predict citizens’ needs and respond quickly, avoiding the need to provide too much data and use overcomplicated services.
Implementing the once-only principle is a good example of a proactive approach. In fact, the highest scores for proactive approach are linked to formal requirements to implement the once-only principle in service delivery.
Thoughts and Recommendations
Based on the findings included in the Digital Government Index 2019, the OECD did not miss the opportunity to express general considerations and recommendations.
- From a general point of view, the performance of the countries examined is considered promising but modest. Although most of them have established institutional models that can provide the policy and operational support needed to implement digital government reforms, limited efforts have been made to take full advantage of the benefits of digital and move beyond e-government.
- The best performing countries globally are those that primarily excel in digital by design and in the user-driven and data-driven dimensions. In fact, good performance in digital by design fosters the creation of coherent governance and policies as the basis for digital governance.
- Preparing clear strategies is critical, but in mid- and lower-performing countries, there is a significant gap between the development of digital government strategies and the implementation of concrete actions to achieve them.
- Proactive user and stakeholder involvement in digital government reforms is low in most countries, which significantly limits and slows down transformation processes.
- In general, open by default is the highest scoring dimension. This reflects the political momentum for open data within digital government reforms, but does not always correspond to a broad data strategy. This discrepancy can create a significant roadblock to the strategic leveraging of data in public organizations. A strategic vision of formal roles and responsibilities are necessary elements to move from policies to concrete, sustainable, and impactful actions.
- Digital transformation and the shift from e-government to digital government must be resilient to policy change. Indeed, the good results achieved by countries with a high overall performance in the six dimensions come from long-term institutional arrangements and sustainable strategies.
- “Robust” governance appears to be a fundamental requirement for achieving a mature digital government. Coordination units defined in governance should therefore be firmly embedded in the institutional structure to ensure the coordination, resources, and legitimacy needed to effectively implement digital transformation policies.
- Finally, further efforts are needed to close the digital skills gap that will enable the success of digital government policies. A shortage of trained and digitally skilled public employees can inhibit the proper and consistent implementation of these policies.
The future perspectives of any country depend heavily on the ability to effectively address digital transformation. The current state of pandemic emergency demonstrates this by highlighting the need for organization, skills and technology to move within an organic framework driven by the needs of citizens.
Today more than ever, every country is called to define medium-long term strategies and set up a multi-sector governance, which allows to go beyond the short range of political cycles. In the implementation phase, a widespread and systemic culture of project management becomes essential, as well as the full involvement of citizens and stakeholders, so that they can guide the design of services.